Joanna Werner, Michael Lucas find drama in a TV newsroom

October 30 2020

When Joanna Werner did a media course at RMIT she aimed to be journalist but her career took a different path as the head of Werner Film Productions.

So when Michael Lucas, whom she had met in a writers’ room five years ago, pitched her his concept of a drama set in TV newsroom, she jumped at the idea.

After a lengthy development process the ABC commissioned The Newsreader, which follows the unlikely bond between a young TV reporter and a ‘difficult’ female newsreader.

Emma Freeman will direct the six-part series scripted by Lucas (who co-created Five Bedrooms with Christine Bartlett), Jonathan Gavin, Niki Aken and Kim Ho, which is now in pre-production in Melbourne, supported by Screen Australia and Film Victoria.

“Michael’s pitch for The Newsreader was so strong and I knew it would be a fabulously original series. Development and financing can be a tough process but we’ll soon forget that pain when we are on set,” Jo tells IF.

The producers have assembled a top-notch cast which won’t be announced, alas, until the ABC’s upfronts next month. EntertainmentOne will sell the rights internationally.

“We have rigorous COVIDSafe protocols in place which have taken a little getting used to, but as long Internet connections don’t fail us on the many Zoom meetings, we are able to get the job done,” she said.

“We have really benefitted from the experience that many of our crew, including line producer Ben Grogan, had on shows like Five Bedrooms, which were shot in a COVID-19 world.”

Like many producers, Werner welcomed the increase in the TV Producer Offset to 30 per cent but laments the abolition of the local content sub-quotas, particularly for children’s TV.

While her company’s primary focus is TV she is developing several feature films which she hopes to fund via pre-sales to streamers.

As one of two producers on Clickbait, she is looking forward to production of the Netflix-commissioned drama co-created by Tony Ayres and Christian White re-starting in a few weeks.

“Lockdown has been bloody tough in Melbourne and I take my hat off to everyone for getting through these past few months,” she said.

“My partner and I have young kids so it has been a challenge to work from home but also so wonderful to spend more time with them during the day than I would usually be able to.

“Zoom meetings with toddlers bouncing on the bed in the background have been a pretty common thing in my house.”

Werner Film Productions is set to shoot a large-scale production for a major streamer early next year – details under wraps – and is developing a sizable slate of projects with production and development executive Celia Richards and executive producer Stuart Menzies.